Mr. Whites’ Greed in W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw”

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Throughout the history of literature, few pieces come close to W.W. Jacobs short story, “The Monkey’s Paw” which was written in order to illustrate the sin of greed that is portrayed through the main character, Mr. White. In W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw,” the character development of Mr. White being curious, greedy, and feeling guilty, shows how one should appreciate the present instead of trying to alter it by any means. Mr. White goes through these emotions as it is something all human beings feel. Mr. White is a developing character that transitions and grows before and after wishing on the monkey paw which is shown by the visit of his old friend, Sergeant-Major Morris who owned the paw before. It is through the character development of Mr. White that W.W. Jacobs is able to transcend “The Monkey Paw” into a classic that has maintained its power for over a century. Jacobs uses Mr. White, who is portrayed as someone with greed, to express that there is no magic to grant wishes easily for ones’ problems.

In part I of “The Monkey’s Paw” Mr. White was introduced as an old man with a thin grey beard, who happens to be curious about many things: “‘I'd like to go to India myself," said the old man, just to look around a bit, you know’” (Jacobs 1). Mr. White’s feels intrigued when he asks his visiting friend Sergeant-Major Morris about the monkey’s paw and learns about the three wishes. Despite all three warnings Sergeant-Major Morris gave Mr. White about how each of the three wishes comes with a consequence and even when Sergeant-Major Morris tries to get rid of the paw by destroying it in the fire “He took the paw, and dangling it between his forefinger and thumb, suddenly threw it upon the fire,” (Jacobs 1), Mr. White snatches the paw out of the fire as he lets his curiosity and greediness get the best of him: “‘If you don't want it Morris," said the other, "give it to me.’” (Jacobs 1). Jacobs shows that even with countless of attempts to get Mr. White to realize that the paw is dangerous, because the paw is something he’s never seen and experienced before, it’s an intriguing concept that catches his attention so there’s no stopping his greed for curiosity. The ominous threat of the paw is presented as described by Phillip M. Brantingham, it questions if Mr. White’s greed of curiosity is worth it despite the numerous warnings (Brantingham 1).

Mr. White portrays greed by his desire for wanting more than he has. Right before Mr. White makes the first wish on the monkey’s paw, he shares his thoughts with his family: “‘I don't know what to wish for, and that's a fact," he said slowly. It seems to me I've got all I want’” (Jacobs 1). Mr. White was content with his life as nothing came to mind for anything to change or appear with a wish. It was after his son, Herbert White, suggests that he should wish for two hundred pounds that Mr. White “[smiles] shamefacedly at his own credulity” (Jacobs 1) and wishes for the money to clear their house [of mortgage]. This shows that no matter how content Mr. White is, there still is an underlying desire for more things or a better situation. Jacobs shows readers that it is human nature to have these types of feelings and ideas by connecting this to how Mr. White is portrayed. After wishing on the paw and some time pass, in part II of the story is when Mr. White’s wish comes true. Mr. White ends up getting the two hundred pounds he craved but the twist that came with this wish was the price of losing his son: “‘He was caught in the machinery," said the visitor at length in a low voice. [Mr. Whites] dry lips shaped the words, "How much?” “Two hundred pounds” was the answer” (Jacobs 2).

After losing his son, Mr. White realizes his greed and selfishness and begins to feel guilty of his actions as he feels responsible for Herbert’s death. Mr. White becomes more self aware of the consequences of the monkey’s paw and starts reflecting on himself that he should’ve listened to the warnings Sergeant-Major Morris gives him: “for now they had nothing to talk about, and their days were long to weariness” (Jacobs 3). Mrs. White begs her husband three times to use the second wish for their son to come back to them however Mr. White was hesitant being that the first wish caused them to lose their son. Nonetheless, Mr. White wishes for his son alive again even though he’s terrified of what the outcome will be: “he regarded it [the talisman] fearfully. Then he sank trembling into a chair” (Jacobs 3). Mr. White’s greed for an exciting life disappears and instead his greed for things to become normal again occurs as he uses the third and final wish out of fear: “he heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment he found the monkey’s paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish” (Jacobs 3). Furthermore, Martha E. Rhymes indicates that, “[Mr. White] fully realize the consequences of his meddling with fate” (Rhymes 1). W.W. Jacobs allows Mr. White to rethink his actions in a way by changing his mindset about wanting change and bettering his life by wishes.

Mr. White’s underlying battle of greed is distinguished in this short story as he goes through many different emotions. By being curious and greedy about the idea of obtaining the monkey’s paw and its powers, Mr. White faces difficult problems and causes him to lose and hurt some of the closest people to him. W.W. Jacobs uses Mr. White to portray the sin of greed through his actions though they seem innocent. Though Mr. White’s greed isn’t portrayed as him being hungry for money and power all throughout “The Monkey’s Paw” his greed is mostly revolved around the monkey’s paw itself. The paw itself symbolizes greed, as those who get hold of it become selfish and wish better for themselves. The paw can make anyone feel greedy and selfish, just like how it made Mr. White greedy. Through the whole of the story, Mr. White’s character faces many ordeals that make him go through array of emotions.

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Mr. Whites’ Greed in W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw”. (2021, Mar 17). Retrieved December 9, 2023 , from

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